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Trump’s End Days


Consciousness of time passing seldom accords with what clocks and calendars tell us. The discord is especially acute in these days of Trump-induced, ever changing “breaking news.”

Thus, it seems to me and I suspect to every other sentient being paying attention, that it was centuries ago that Donald Trump was still making an effort not to flaunt his ignorance and mindlessness. As far as the physics goes, it hasn’t been quite three years.

It seems like centuries ago too when there were still “adults in the room,” trying, without much success, to keep Trump from acting out too egregiously or doing anything too transparently stupid. According to the calendar, it has not been much more than a year since most of that stable cleared out.

Among those adults, there was a retired Marine Corps General called “Mad Dog,” an Exxon-Mobil honcho named “Rex,” and H. R. McMaster, a retired Army Lieutenant General. They were Trump’s Defense Secretary, Secretary of State, and National Security Advisor, respectively.

Trump has a thing for fossil fuel industry executives, the richer the better, and for generals. But, even for them, any and all lapses from abject servility, and any sign of disrespect, is a sure way to get fired by tweet.

I would guess that Trump picked up his fondness for generals at the Military School where his parents sent him to get his act together. Back in the day, that is what rich parents with troubled kids would do. Or maybe it came along with his bone spurs.

Whatever the explanation, those were the Trump administration’s salad days.

Nowadays, his administration is an unadorned kakistocracy, a government of the worst, least qualified and most unscrupulous persons around.

From the moment that, thanks to the Electoral College, a slight plurality of voters in a few states – and a minority overall — set Trump loose upon the world, I was of the view that only cholesterol would save us. My hope was that a beneficent cheeseburger would be the Donald’s undoing.

Thanks to the exceptionally undemocratic electoral system our founding fathers” (not a mother among them, except in the vernacular sense) laid upon us, and thanks also to the pusillanimity of Democrats and vileness of Republicans, I’d still put my money on fast food.

To be sure, the will to impeach and remove is there; it grows in breadth and depth with each new tweetstorm and incoherent rant.

But, by dragging everything he can through the courts, that slow moving, officially co-equal branch of government that Republican troglodytes and Democratic “moderates” have been degrading for decades (as measured by the calendar), Team Trump will be able to delay the process, not indefinitely but for a long enough time for the argument to prevail that there is no time left to rid the body politic of Trump through impeachment and removal; that the people should deal with the problem in the general election next November instead.

This is more likely than not to be what happens, but it is not a good idea. So far, only a few defrocked Trumpians – most famously, Michael Cohen – have raised the alarm, but actions speak louder than words. Because actions speak louder than words, there is cause to think that Trump’s decision not to cooperate at all with Congress’s impeachment investigation is not just a crime against the Constitution, but is also a kind of entry-level drug. First defy subpoenas, then court orders, and ultimately, defying even the results of the 2020 election.

Now is the time to start thinking about what to do if and when Trump decides to smash one of the few beneficent norms he has not already violated – the idea that, no matter what, when elections require it, power transfers peacefully or at least without overt recourse to violence.

This is an issue that ought to be raised with all the candidates vying for the Democratic nomination in 2020, and indeed with all elected and unelected political officials throughout the United States. It ought also to be raised with Pentagon officials before all the Commander-in-Chief nonsense gets out of hand.

Finding a way to hold onto power come what may is the sort of thing that the malevolent despots Trump admires would do. By circumstance and temperament, Trump certainly has it in him to follow their lead. He also has a good motive, inasmuch as he may find himself without any other way to keep his sorry ass out of Club Fed.

There is some danger, though, that, Democrats will give him another way – that they will try to entice him into leaving by offering him a get-out-of-jail-free card. That would be true to their nature, but if they do, they must not be fought tooth and nail.

Letting Bush-Cheney era war criminals, and Bush and Cheney themselves, off scot-free was the Obama administration’s Original Sin; it is what allowed Obama and his crew to carry on along the lines Bush and Cheney pioneered. Repeating that mistake with Trump would be many times worse.

In principle, we have a Justice Department dedicated, among other things, to enforcing the dictates of federal courts. However, in Trumpland, it will do no such thing; instead, it acts as if it owes Trump fealty, all else be damned.

It is not entirely in Trump’s pocket, thanks mainly to what Trump and his minions, putting a perfectly good and useful word to bad use, call “the deep state.” However, its leader is another story. With William Barr calling the shots, Trump and Trump family interests take precedence even over the rule of law.

***

We must hand it to Attorney General Barr. Making his predecessor, Jeff (Jefferson Beauregard) Sessions, look good is no easy feat. Hand it to Trump too; getting an Attorney General to serve as a president’s de facto personal fixer is no mean feat either.

That this could happen at all shows that the gods, the nastier ones anyway, are still on Trump’s side. Or maybe they are just building him up for a harder fall.

His behavior lately suggests that a very hard fall is coming – at least if Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was right to observe that those whom the gods would destroy, they first make crazy.

Time will tell.

What we know, for now, is just that the Donald, having been mentored by that consummate evil doer from the netherworld of the New York political and legal scene of Trump’s youth, Roy Cohn, consigliere to Joe McCarthy, to heads of Mafia crime families, and to countless greater or lesser sleazeballs, called out for a Roy Cohn of his own, and that the gods obliged.

Or, rather, they split the job in two, giving him Barr to take care of the Justice Department, and, for the heavier lifting, the kinds of things that even someone who doesn’t care about propriety or good government would still want kept out of view, they gave him, for his official personal attorney, the once great and famous Rudy Giuliani.

Two pathetic, almost tragic, figures – Giuliani exciting pity and fear as the spectacle of his formerly masterful, if not exactly noble, overthrown mind deconstructs; and Barr, as he jettisons whatever moral and intellectual capital he had been able to accumulate as a “made” Republican lawyer in the upper echelons of government and corporate circles in Washington and New York.

Giuliani cut his chops going after the kinds of people, mobsters mostly, that Roy Cohn defended; Barr’s milieu was genteel. His father – ironically, his name was Donald – was headmaster at the Dalton School, a pillar of the Ivy Preparatory School league in New York City.

Ironically too, it was he who hired college dropout Jeffrey Epstein to teach math and physics at that school for gilded youth. Had Epstein not killed himself at Riker’s Island, or otherwise met his end there, his son would have been nominally in charge of Epstein’s prosecution. For a while, the joke was that the Dalton School had an Epstein-Barr problem.

Even when not trying, Trump brings everything he touches down with him – Giuliani, of course, and now Barr too.

He may not be the most heinous of the Donald’s underlings, but, in the short run at least, he is the one most likely to do the most harm.

With the Justice Department in tow – not so much the foot soldiers as the commanding heights — Trump feels, with good reason, that he can get away with pretty much anything – including, of course, ordering his minions to defy Congressional subpoenas.

With the Justice Department in his pocket, who is going to stop him?

The collective wisdom has it that, if worse comes to worse, at least the election is not too far off. But what reason is there to think that Trump will go quietly then, even if he loses big time?

Now is the time to prepare for that eventuality, and to do all we can to keep it from coming to pass.

It may not feel as if working on this now should be an urgent priority; after all, in Trumpland, thirteen months can feel like an eternity. But it is; calendars don’t lie.

 

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ANDREW LEVINE is the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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